Discourse / Letters / September 1, 2016

Letter to the Editor: Alumna troubled by director of spiritual life position

In regard to Knox’s appointing of a director of spiritual life, I am troubled.

As an atheist, I am not wild about public displays of religion, but I realize these things are important to some people. I expect others to respect my unapologetic lack of religion (and “spirituality”), so I try and respect their need for it. However, when a school — one that I am proud to have attended — places spirituality near the top of its list of important things to support, I find myself unable to stay quiet.

This new position is nothing short of absurd. I understand it is not being funded by tuition money (if it is, though, then let the hellfire rage), but rather by a private donor. And this donor chooses to remain anonymous? What does that say? What does that say about faith and spirituality? What does that say about the donor and what does that say about Knox? Anonymous donorship is what renamed the law school at George Mason the “Antonin Scalia Law School.” Donors playing puppet master is unsettling. I question the donor’s morals and ethics given they chose to pay for this person’s salary, rather than, say, contribute to scholarships or improve buildings.

But, here’s my issue:

How can a place promise spiritual support if all spirits are not being represented? How can a person without religion feel comfortable being guided and supported by someone with a specific religious bias? I’m sure the intentions are good and Ms. Seiwert is going to attempt to be nothing less than inclusive, but this is just an impossible task and really highlights the privilege bestowed upon those subscribing to Christianity.

A Christian friend asked me if I’d have the same feelings if the new position was filled by a Buddhist or someone wearing a hijab. I absolutely would — this position is inappropriate, alienating and entirely unnecessary. However, I believe someone who is a minority, practicing a religion that isn’t as unquestionably loved and valued as Christianity, is far more qualified to discuss societal sensitivities and tolerance.

I’m wondering about the interview process. Were spiritual advisors of multiple faiths consulted and considered? Who were the decision makers?

Furthermore, unless it is explicitly stated in the mission statement of an educational institution, the administration has zero obligation to cater to the religious and spiritual needs of its students. That responsibility should fall on the student and the student alone. Spiritual support should be sought elsewhere and has no place in a non-denominational curriculum. Start a club or seek your support off-campus. Discuss religion is the classroom, engage in an open dialogue with people outside your faith, but if you find yourself in a crisis, do not expect your college administration to cater to your faith-based turmoil. That’s not how it works.

Knox has now become unrecognizable to me, a graduate of the class of 2012. One of the major reasons I chose to attend Knox was because it did not have a religious affiliation. Knox prided itself on opening its doors to all walks of life, promising an equal educational opportunity and support. As a private institution, Knox has all the power in the world to elect to offer “spiritual support,” but that’s not the school I elected to attend. If this is Knox’s attempt to answer students demands of adequate mental health support, then this is totally missing the mark.

Julia Shenkar

Tags:  Knox College letter to the editor Lisa Seiwart religion spiritual life

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Julia Shenkar

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  • Michelle Lyn Luna

    “How can a place promise spiritual support if all spirits are not being represented? How can a person without religion feel comfortable being guided and supported by someone with a specific religious bias?”
    I take significant issue with this sentiment. This would not be an issue if the identity of concern wasn’t religion, especially on this campus. We have staff for multicultural students and disabled students, but not all of our students are multicultural or disabled, and thus do not personally benefit from or even interact with those members of the staff. The case should be the same with a Spiritual Director. Just because we have atheists and other nonreligious students doesn’t mean we should not have resources for those who ARE religious.

    Additionally, as a student presently on campus, I think having a Spiritual Director is great. The director can be a resource for students, but I also think it would benefit much of the campus for religious groups to have a bit more visible position at Knox. I support Knox not being affiliated with any particular religion, and I understand a lot of Knox is merely indifferent to religion. Even so, a shocking and upsetting number of students at Knox are of the “religion is evil and religious people are stupid” camp. I know I was amazed and appalled at such an intolerance (and so common of one!) from such a generally-accepting school. We can accept different cultures, abilities, sexualities, genders, but if someone has any type of faith, nope. Especially if you want to express your faith in public at Knox. I have heard such hatred of the religious groups on campus. When sports or Greek Life table in Seymour, it’s whatever, that’s what groups do. When a religious group tables in Seymour? They’re ‘forcing religion down our throats,’ even if it’s just IVCF offering their finals survival kits. I sincerely feel like the religious groups on this campus deserve a director of Spiritual Life, and they deserve recognition as important groups on this campus –they deserve to be “near the top of [Knox’s] list of important things to support,” as you say.

    I understand a bit of the concern with money and effort being made towards this situation at Knox instead of many, many of other, also important, issues facing the college (skyrocketing tuition, conditions of dorms, aid for students, etc), but you can’t solve all issues at once, and I think this is a good step, especially as something that is directly beneficial to the students. [Also, if the donor wanted the money to go to this, then that’s what it goes to. And frankly, given hostility toward religion on campus, I’m not surprised they wanted to remain anonymous]

    As you said, “Knox [has] prided itself on opening its doors to all walks of life, promising an equal educational opportunity and support.” And now, with a Director of Spiritual Life, we are one step closer to offering a full range of support (which will be equally available to nonreligious students as the religious ones). :)

  • Quinn

    One of the reason I chose Knox was also in its neutrality. Maybe it’s better to say I expected a bowl of thoughts, philosophy, and ideas shared without a stigmatization. But after living at Knox for three years, more and more I got some kind of pressure to think in certain way on the campus. You said that Christianity is a widely loved… Ah. You said it is “unquestionably loved” religion. But is it? This is Knox that we are talking about. Come on. You’ve been there. You know the sentiment towards the Christianity on the campus. I personally don’t care the existence of the director at all. But I think it would be a good chance to balance out the ground and I’m sure it’ll encourage more diverse students to share their thoughts without being scared to get a scarlet letter. This is the Knox that I’m dreaming of.

  • https://twitter.com/realKentron Kenton

    Thanks for this, Julia. It’s a shame an alum had to write this.

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